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Lanao Norte habal-habal driver's son in PMA Class 2020 Honor Roll

May 24, 2020 - Sunday 6:05 PM by Harold Clavite

Article Banner Image Rodrigo Abgao shows the habal-habal motorcycle that he drove for 12 years to support his children's education. (Photo: H.Clavite/HRS Media)

LANAO DEL NORTE — The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class Masidlawin 2020 was honored in a simple graduation rites on Friday, away from the grandiose of its usual annual ceremonies in Fort Del Pilar in Baguio City.

One of the topnotchers, ranking 9th in the honor roll, is the son of a farmer from Baroy, Lanao del Norte who also earned a living as a 'habal-habal' driver and charcoal vendor.

As PMA Commandant of Cadets Brigadier General Romeo Brawner Jr. announced the top 10 graduates on Friday, Cadet 1st Class Rubenson Prajes Abgao, 21, was introduced alongside topnotchers. No guests were invited in the ceremonies and parents didn't have the chance to witness the momentous occasion.

Abgao, who is joining the Philippine Air Force, left his family in 2016 to join the Academy. Two of his older brothers are currently active corporals in the Philippine Army – one assigned in Marawi City and the other in Iligan City. The younger Abgao is fourth of five children of Rodrigo and Betty.

Rodrigo and Betty Abgao pose with their youngest child, Raymond, who is on his way to following in the footsteps of his brother, Cadet 1st Class Rubenson Abgao, who finished 9th in the PMA 2020 Honor Roll. (Photo: H.Clavite/HRS Media)

The family struggle
While Rodrigo tended a small piece of land he inherited from his parents which produced a minimal yield of copra and palay, Betty took care of their five children while spending several hours of her day carving out coconut fruit to sell dried copra. For most of their lives, they lived in a dilapidated dwelling in barangay Maliwanag.

“Life has been difficult. It was a struggle. This house did not look like the original one we had,” said Rodrigo.

Their current two-story concrete house lies in a beautiful greenery in the middle of a coconut and rice farmland, built by their older children Rubelyn, Roger and Robert.

Rodrigo and four other siblings inherited 2.5 hectares of land from his parents and he personally tended his portion of 5,000 square meters. The family depended on seasonal yield of their small farm and in between planting and harvest season, Rodrigo had to juggle part-time jobs to make ends meet. While determined to provide for their college education, Rodrigo had difficulty securing enough finances for their children to finish their degrees. Two older children went to college together. For Rubelyn to finish college, Rodrigo had to sell his wife’s carabao and had to later resort into getting loans from neighbors.

Uling and habal-habal
When their kids were younger, Rodrigo and Betty sold charcoal (uling) in nearby barangay Manan-ao while farm produce was unreliable. Rodrigo said he had to find other ways to earn money and could not solely rely on his small farm. He had to do everything to fulfill his goal of providing their children the education they deserved.

Rodrigo drove the habal-habal for 12 years and, in addition to seasonal sales from the farm, the same motorcycle practically brought education into his kids' lives including Rubenson's.

Rubenson was in elementary and high school when he worked in his father’s farm. According to him, he and his siblings had to help their father in planting rice to bring down overhead costs as the family had to keep up with loans.

Rodrigo taught his kids to plant rice in the mud, harvest palay, pump water, and deal with the carabao. For a lanky kid like Rubenson and his brothers, farm work was pure hard labor.

“But I understood why I had to do it. We were five children growing up together and two of my older siblings went to college almost at the same time. Whatever the family earned, it had to go to my older siblings’ education,” said Rubenson.

Rubenson fixed his mindset that once he was inside the Academy, he would never give up, no matter how difficult it would take. Every time he felt like giving up, he would remind himself of his goal of not going back to the hard labor in the farm.

“There were times I would feel so low and get so tired in PMA and I would tell myself that I will never go back to the painful experience in the past and so I persevered,” he added.

PMA Class 2020 9th Placer Cadet 1st Class Rubenson Abgao was a popular student and an achiever at the Lanao del Norte National Comprehensive High School in Baroy, Lanao del Norte. (Photo: H.Clavite/HRS Media)

Student achiever
Prior to joining the PMA, Rubenson went to college as a DOST scholar in the Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) where he studied Computer Science for two semesters. Prior to moving to Iligan for college, he was a popular student and an achiever in high school. He was an outstanding student at the Lanao del Norte National Comprehensive High School (LNNCHS) in Baroy. Despite his numerous achievements in school, he remained shy.

Life in the Academy totally changed Rubenson. He became more confident and his character was inspirited and emboldened by the PMA’s ideals on courage, integrity and loyalty. He acquired the courage to be in conversations with other people and to express his mind. He has physically matured as well and believes he has been fully developed as a person.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the PMA decided to push through with this year’s graduation ceremonies without guests and the cadets’ families were not invited. Rubenson said his family had prepared for a trip to Baguio and had already bought plane tickets.

“It was sad knowing that they would not be able to come. They prepared for this. Earlier in February, they already had tickets. I was in low morale as they would not be able to witness the achievement I got. However, I am still thankful because I get to graduate. I know that some schools in the country have cancelled their graduation ceremonies,” said Rubenson.

With great pride, Rodrigo tells his friends that his three boys are serving in the military and one is on his way to follow the footsteps of his older brothers. Their sacrifices had truly paid off.